RUGBY UNION: Knowing the luck of the Irish, I'm backing the French

THE BOOKIES are offering 6-4 against both England and France for the Six Nations Championship. Ireland are 7-2, Wales 9-1, Scotland 200- 1 and Italy 750-1. It is fair to say that Ireland are the best realistic bet: a side that many impartial judges believe will win the competition. They take this view quite apart from the odds on offer, which are reasonably generous as these things go.

The odds may not seem generous at all to those who have loyally backed the boys in green over the years at 14-1 or thereabouts on the theory that, if Brian O'Driscoll scores some tries and Ronan O'Gara kicks his goals, it will be all right on the night. But the view seems to be that if they do not win the Championship this time round, they are never going to win it.

They certainly have the luck of the draw, meeting England in Dublin and France in the same spot two weeks later. They have probably the best pair of locks in Europe in Paul O'Connell and Malcolm O'Kelly. Their centres, O'Driscoll and Gordon D'Arcy, recall a more generous age, though D'Arcy will be challenged by Gavin Henson of Wales for a place in the Lions XV.

Above all, in these violent and risky times, they are relatively free of injury. Even Denis Hickie, one of the quickest wings in the northern hemisphere on the select occasions when he is fit, is able to take the field against Italy in Rome on Sunday.

Ireland will presumably win this match. But they could come unstuck against Scotland at Murrayfield and the match against Wales in Cardiff on the last Saturday of the Six Nations season could well see them go down. Never underestimate the capacity of the Irish to win the matches they are expected to lose, and to lose those they are expected to win.

At 9-1, Wales are the team for a flutter. Nevertheless their forwards are a source of some worry and not just the front five, either. If Mike Ruddock, the Wales coach, had taken my advice, he would have been in even greater trouble than that in which he now finds himself. This was to settle on Colin Charvis at No 6 and Martyn Williams at No 7. If he had shared my view, he would now be looking for two replacement flankers instead of one.

There was a time in Wales, long ago, when the open-side wing forward was a player who in glamour ranked with a centre or even an outside-half. No longer. There is no acknowledged third choice after Williams and Charvis, who is not a natural No 7 in any case.

The backs are more encouraging. They usually are. The shift of Iestyn Harris back to rugby league has not weakened the team, for Harris's place was never wholly secure. Wrongly so, and Gavin Henson has proved a more than adequate substitute. Oddly enough, he strikes me as a player who would be equally suited to league. The former Welsh player of whom he most reminds me is Terry Price, who spent all his top-class rugby career at full-back and then went to the bad, poor chap.

Like Price, Henson has a tremendous boot. It would be a pity for Wales to waste it. I hope Ruddock can devise some satisfactory division of labour between Henson and Stephen Jones. The obvious solution is to give the longer kicks to Henson, whether they are to touch or at goal. This is what Scotland did with Craig Chalmers and Gavin Hastings when they were lucky enough to have both in the side.

Just as people say that if Ireland do not win the Six Nations this season, they never will, so also are they saying - equally irrationally - that, in the England match, it is now or never for Wales. Despite my doubts, and even though the odds are not specially inviting, I have decided to back France, who have served me well over the years.

My other investment is of pounds 50 in Leicester to win the Heineken Cup at 11-2. If they can beat Leinster at Lansdowne Road, they have two home matches. The first is, probably, against Toulouse in England, though not at Welford Road. The final is at Murrayfield, goodness knows why, for it has lately become something of a rugby mausoleum. But at least the Tigers' fans will be able to get there up the motorway with comparative ease.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Teeth should be brushed twice a day to prevent tooth decay
Bryan Cranston as Walter White, in the acclaimed series 'Breaking Bad'
footballChelsea 6 Maribor 0: Blues warm up for Premier League showdown with stroll in Champions League - but Mourinho is short of strikers
Those who were encouraged to walk in a happy manner remembered less negative words
Arts and Entertainment
Princess Olga in 'You Can't Get the Staff'
tvReview: The anachronistic aristocrats, it seemed, were just happy to have some attention
Renee Zellweger as Bridget Jones
Life and Style

Board creates magnetic field to achieve lift

There have been various incidents of social media users inadvertently flouting the law

Life and Style
Stack ‘em high?: quantity doesn’t always trump quality, as Friends of the Earth can testify
techThe proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Bourgogne wine maker Laboure-Roi vice president Thibault Garin (L) offers the company's 2013 Beaujolais Nouveau wine to the guest in the wine spa at the Hakone Yunessun spa resort facilities in Hakone town, Kanagawa prefecture, some 100-kilometre west of Tokyo
CSKA Moscow celebrate after equalising with a late penalty
footballCSKA Moscow 2 Manchester City 2: Premier League champions let two goal lead slip in Russia
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

IT Project Manager

Competitive: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Chelmsford a...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

IT Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

Day In a Page

Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London